Calypso

John Collins' Calypso fully tilted, Birmingham Onion Fair, 1960

Quick Facts

Manufacturer(s): Imported, Lang Wheels
Debut year: 1960
First UK produced: 1961
Last UK produced: 1962
Total UK number: 6 (possibly 7)

Summary: Continental version of a Twist, with 4 groups of 4 tub-shaped cars rotating through 'circles with a circle'. Tilted platform with early versions having an extended lifting tilt. Cumbersome ride that was quickly overtaken by the success of the Twist.

The Calypso made a stunning and somewhat rainy debut at back end of the 1960 season taking in Ashby-de-la-Zouch Statutes, Birmingham Onion Fair, Goose Fair and Ilkeston. Presented by John Collins, the ride was an example of a German built machine. It is known that the Calypso ride was developed by German showman Caspar Klaus around 1959, the showmen building 5 examples of the machine. The Calypso was a large machine and must have provided a vivid spectacle in its debut guise. The Klaus built machines consisted of four groups of four cars, mounted on a rotating platform. These initial machines were built on a slight tilt, with a further lifting mechanism provided once the machine was in motion. Later built machines discarded this lifting mechanism and could be distinguished by the fact that the rotating platform diameter was less than the actual maximum diameter of the space occupied by the cars.

This initial machine was studied at great length by enthusiast Jack Leeson at the Birmingham Onion Fair. The ride was recorded in sketch form by Jack as an 18 section machine, with sloping gratings in place of steps, a 32 foot 20 section rotating platform diameter, a 40 foot overall diameter with 7 of the back sections consisting of a flash of highly polished aluminium mirrors. The 16 cars were described as seating 2 people with the car group geared to spin anti-clockwise countering the main clockwise spin of the platform. The cars had a single large working headlight with oblong ports along the sides and a decorative umbrella canopy. The rotation of the car group was by independent motors and the lift of the tilt was recorded as being about 4 foot when fully extended. The paybox occupied a whole section, with the control box alongside occupying another section. Jack also noted a monogramed 'P' on each car with the name "W. Peter, Augsberg". The colour scheme is described as cream and red shutters, dark blue platforms with red and yellow diagonal patterns, dark blue gratings and dark blue and cream handrails. Jack also recorded the ride pulling on at Nottingham Goose Fair, under the power of Collins' Bedford truck (carrying the double deck car trucks) and the Scammell MDH 77 pulling the heavy tackle. Where the machine ended up is difficult to say, though it is noted that a Calypso of similar construction spent some time at a North East park (John Collins having interests in both Seaburn and Seaton Carew).

Botton Brothers were the next family associated with the Calypso ride and approached the Lang Wheels company as a possible builder of the ride. Botton Brothers, who ran the parks at Great Yarmouth and Battersea, already had a good relationship with Lang Wheels, having developed the famous Vampire Jets, and it is known that Lang Wheels commenced production of the Calypso for use in the parks. Botton Brothers were supplied with 2 machines, though there is a marked difference between the rides. The first machine, stationed at Great Yarmouth, seemed an almost exact copy of the German machine, complete with lifting platform. However, Lang Wheels then developed a different style of Calypso, building the machine on a steeper tilt and doing away with the mechanism that lifts the platform. This in turn meant that the company could utilise a smaller diameter rotating platform, because the platfom always sat inside the larger platform. Lang Wheels built such a machine for Eastern Counties showman Sid Stocks and was extensively travelled.

Once again, Jack Leeson caught up with the ride at Cambridge Midsummer Fair in 1962 and made extensive notes. He describes the machine as having 18 platforms, no lift, an overall diameter the same as the Collins machine, decorated shutters depicting West Indian scenes, and notes that Botton Brothers opened a similar machine at Battersea in 1961. The handrails have a distinctive look, consisting a 'brickwork' type pattern. Jack managed to see the ride at Battersea and his photos confirm it the same as Sid Stocks machine. Lang Wheels tried to capture the spirit of the times with their machine at Battersea, having the names of exotic dances stencilled on the shutters and paybox, and making reference to hip terminology such as 'bongo bongo'.

The subsequent history of these Calypso rides has not been well documented, since even though the ride proved a spectacular sight, the portability and reliability of the machine was difficult to reconcile. By the same token, the riding motion of the machine had been duplicated with the Twist and this ride was proving a soaraway success with rapid production throughout the 1960s.

Botton Brothers' number 2 Calypso, Lang Wheels, Battersea Park, 1961

The Calypso soon became a forgotten venture. Sid Stocks' machine passed through various owners and soon fell in to a poor state and was eventually scrapped, whilst the chain of ownership of the 2 Botton Brothers machine is not at all clear. The machines between them passed to Blackpool Pleasure Beach and New Brighton around 1965, though it appears that both machines had been 'hybridised' with the other. World's Fair notes a Lang Wheels machine for sale by Wilkie (New Brighton) in 1968 with much of the decor from the Great Yarmouth machine still in place, though it appears that the rotating platform had been cut down even though the machine still tilted.

One surviving machine is the ride originally built for the Kursaal park at Southend, a Lang Wheels model of the tilting variation. Very little has been recorded about the origins of this machine and it is assumed that the machine could well have been the original German machine purchased by the park sometime in the 1970s. The ride was photographed out in the 'open' in 1976 and it is known that at this point it passed to W. Coneley. The last known showman to have travelled this machine is John Smith.

The Calypso continued to thrive on the Continent, paving the way for its natural evolution in the Breakdance. By the same quirk, the Breakdance remains a favourite in Europe but has never taken off in the UK. The success of the Calypso abroad has meant that a few rides have been imported to parks over here. Clacton Pier had the 'Cha Cha Cha' for many years and this is probably the same machine that later opened at Folkestone and Margate,  possibly moving over to Ireland with the Causeway Safari Park. Margate also had a pair of 'Calypso-style' Twists made by the Kreekel company. One of these rides moved to Groveland, then to Loudoun Castle, and on to Southport. They appear as strange heavyweight Twist rides, showing the slim divide between determining something as a Twist and Calypso.

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